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Civil Law - Double Jeopardy: Civil Suits After Criminal Trials

simpson acquitted wrongful families

The civil suit by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman against O.J. Simpson brought national and international attention to an ongoing trend in the U.S. legal system where families seek retribution in civil courts for defendants that are found guilty or even acquitted in criminal courts. Instead of being charged with murder as in the criminal trial, Simpson was sued for wrongful death by the families of victims in the civil trial. Though Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case, he was found negligent in the civil action against him and ordered to pay about $33 million in damages. Legal experts contend that crime victims prefer civil trials to criminal trials because of their "lighter" burden of proof, where the plaintiffs need not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a wrongful act in order to be compensated. Furthermore, jury decisions do not have to be unanimous in civil cases as in criminal cases. Instead, a jury majority is all that is necessary. Although someone acquitted in a criminal trial cannot be prosecuted for the same crime again, he or she can be tried in civil court for the same wrongful act.

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